Saturday’s Manchester derby will be the most hotly anticipated in years.
This is in no small part due to the respective managerial incumbents. José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have had a long running and bitter rivalry ever since their days in La Liga. Guardiola was the keeper of Cruyff’s purist flame at Barcelona, while Mourinho was a harbinger of the game’s dark arts at Real Madrid. The Sauron to Pep’s Gandalf, the North to his South Korea, a finger in the eye of the Spaniard’s idealistic view of the game.
Both teams have taken maximum points from their first three games which, in truth, was probably expected. However, they face their first real test, ironically, against each other this weekend.
— MARCA in English (@MARCAinENGLISH) September 8, 2016
Both managers have brought in their favoured kind of players over the summer transfer window. Guardiola snapped up the best young English ball-playing centre half in John Stones as well as Claudio Bravo, an archetypal sweeper-keeper, and Nolito, one of the next generation of technically gifted, if not physically imposing Spaniards.
Mourinho, for his part, has overseen the world record signing of United’s prodigal son Paul Pogba, perhaps United’s first genuine box-to-box midfielder since Darren Fletcher’s brief but effective period before his illness. Eric Bailly has shown all the hallmarks of a Mourinho player so far – in having strength, agility, pace, and physically dominance – and then there’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has the perfect combination of experience, arrogance and effectiveness needed to lead the line for any Mourinho team.
It may be early days, but both managers have already gone someway to imposing their respective philosophies on their charges at their new football clubs.
With regard to outgoings, it’s been Guardiola who has wielded the axe most ruthlessly. Wilfred Bony, Samir Nasri, Eliaquim Mangala and Joe Hart were all sent packing on loan for the same reason in that they don’t suit the way the Spaniard likes his teams to play.
Mourinho has been more diplomatic with his inherited squad and has given all the established senior players, perhaps Bastian Schweinsteiger apart, a clean slate to start from. He hasn’t addressed the nagging issue of Wayne Rooney’s poor form though, which means his hand may be forced to do so later in the season and this could create tension within the squad.
Two completely opposite approaches to dealing with their squads, and the man most successful at this task will only become apparent with time.
As a result, this weekend’s derby will light the blue (or red) touch paper on what is sure to be an intense and prolonged rivalry in the city of Manchester. Three points on Saturday may not be pivotal in the race for the 2016/17 Premier League title race – given that there is so much football left to play – but the first significant blow in this renewed managerial rivalry will count for a lot to the men in either dugout.
Intensity, gamesmanship, aggression, skill, and controversy. Expect Saturday’s game to be a microcosm of the season ahead.
Stephen Vaughan, Pundit Arena
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